I don't think Lombardi is saying what you think he's saying

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 16: Dustin Penner #25 of the Los Angeles Kings is tripped up by Dan Boyle #22 of the San Jose Sharks in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the HP Pavilion on April 16, 2011 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

I just got finished watching the video clips of Dean Lombardi ruminating on 2010-11. I have a lot of thoughts on different corners of the interview, but I want to address first the portion of the video that deals with Dustin Penner. I read somewhere that Lombardi "all but called the trade a mistake." And, of course, this Lombardi interview has been rolled together with the ESPN quote about Penner's softball league status, forming one super-nova of "you suck." 

Only I don't think that's what he was saying at all. 

I took the liberty of transcribing the NHL.com interview so we can go line by line:

At the time we did it, we thought that this was going to be a good fit, and obviously it wasn't the impact that we were hoping [for].

And the reasons for that lack of impact have been debated into the ground. (1) Kopitar injury; (2) Williams injury; (3) new system; (4) conditioning. It's not like there was doubt if Lombardi was happy with Penner's contribution after the trade.

The one thing we're learning about him, I think he cares about the right things, but there is some work to do in terms of fitting in this culture we're trying to create. And that was made clear that we have to get on the same page here now this summer. This is a group -- when you think of the Matt Greenes and Jarret Stolls -- those veterans really know how to work -- Scuderi -- they're quality veterans. And he's got to fit into that mold, because these young players [...] are a big part of our team, [and] they still, in their way, want to identify with these guys who have been through the wars.

Translation: Penner is a role model and if he doesn't get with the program, it will have a trickle-down effect. We've heard this before (see Alex Frolov, also, in a different context, the rationale for not acquiring Dany Heatley). The veterans represent what Lombardi wants the kids to be when they grow up. And that's obviously a huge part of how he goes about selecting which veterans to bring in, and which to let go.

Lombardi clearly believes that the kids will emulate the behavior they see rewarded. 

You're dealing with a player who clearly has the potential to score 25-30 goals, easy. Athletically, he's very underrated -- but it's all about getting in shape, fitting in with the culture and the work ethic, and then i think the sky's the limit.

The story so far: Penner's heart is in the right place, but he's expected to be a role model in all things. Because, in addition to the "trickle-down" effect, if every player in the system does not pull his own weight, in terms of conditioning, "compete", discipline, effort -- it undermines the players' trust in each other. Kind of a important, since, without trust, the system doesn't work. 

This is a guy who won a Stanley Cup, and was a big part of it, and we've got to get back to some of those values, [for him] to be what he wants to be.

Translation: he spent a long time in Edmonton losing the will to live. And it's not as though Lombardi and Penner want different things. They are both working toward the common goal of Penner being a 35-40 goal scorer with a second cup ring. 

In the end, i think this is a good person, deep down, who wants the right things, but -- hopefully, he can get the job done this summer, because it's imperative, or it's not going to work.

As a coach once said to me, no matter how talented you are, if you're not working as hard as you can, there's someone out there who is, and that's the guy who's going to make the team. Or, to quote Dan Bylsma (back when he was a King) "if everyone did their jobs, I wouldn't be in the NHL." Something like that. 

[...] The fit with [Penner], the thought of -- when he's playing like he did [...] two years ago, he was one of the best players in the league there, for that stretch -- and the thought of that size and that type of ability playing with Kopitar...could be pretty scary. It has a little bit of -- I don't want to get carried away -- but it has a little of that Legion of Doom look, and that was a powerful force, when you look at the size of those two guys.

That would be Eric Lindros and, I assume, John LeClair. I don't think he thinks Kopi is Mikael Renberg. 

But there's a lot more work, you gotta still work, if you want to be in that bracket.

If you want to be a member of one of the best lines ever, you have to work hard. You have to work harder than you would if you were just coasting on your own natural ability. That is the crux of the infamous El Cid Lounge softball team comment. It's not hard to settle for how good you are at your default setting. Any idiot in any beer league in the world can do that. Lombardi is selling a vision of a team in which each player is essentially obligated to be the best possible version of himself, in which no individual is exempt, even -- in fact, especially -- superstars. 

Which is why those of us who have been translating Lombardi for several years know that he's not saying anything to Dustin Penner that he hasn't already said to Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, or Jonathan Bernier or Jack Johnson. And I'm pretty sure Lombardi has a pretty high opinion of those guys. 

I think of it as, "We like you. We traded for you. We gave up a lot to get you. We have seen what you can do. And here's what we expect..."*

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